The law requires every parent to support their child, and that’s no less true when the parents separate or divorce. Child support cases are often contentious because the parents don’t always agree on how much they both earn, how much the child needs, and therefore what the monthly support payment should be. You may be the parent who needs support or the one from whom it is being demanded. Either way, SederLaw is ready to serve you.
How Does Child Support Work in Massachusetts?
Most child support cases use a mathematical formula, based on established child support guidelines, to determine how much one parent pays the other each month. This preset formula incorporates several factors, including:
The parents’ income. “Income” refers to the gross incomes of both the custodial and non-custodial parent. Some parents are unsure whether a particular category of earnings is included; basically, if the IRS sees it as income then the judge likely will. Common examples of income are:
- Salaries, wages, and tips
- Overtime pay
- Self-employment income
- Business income
- Workers’ compensation
- Unemployment compensation
Parents sometimes try to underreport their income or hide it in an attempt to avoid paying child support. However, the court can impute income to a parent based on evidence such as spending habits or the parent’s lifestyle. The court can do something similar with a parent who is intentionally unemployed or underemployed (working a lower-paying job). In cases like these, the judge may use the parent’s earning ability rather than the actual earnings.
Be upfront with your attorney about your sources of income and your employment situation, especially if you are earning less than you can due to a bad market or other circumstances out of your control. Be sure to also tell your lawyer about any evidence related to the other parent’s income or if that parent is intentionally not earning as much as he or she could.
The costs to raise the child. Your child support judge can consider a number of child-related expenses, such as:
- Daycare or childcare costs
- Health insurance coverage
- Dental and vision insurance
- Routine and extraordinary out-of-pocket and uninsured medical, dental, and vision expenses
- Extracurricular activities
- Private school costs
- Summer camps
These costs factor into child support in different ways. Concerning child care expenses, reasonable costs of up to $355 per week, per child may be shared by the parents in proportion to their share of combined income. On the other hand, a parent may deduct from his or her gross income the amount actually paid for monthly health insurance premiums.
Give your attorney all evidence related to how much you pay to care for your child. Unusual expenses that are necessary for the child may also be taken into account.
Parenting time. How much time the child spends with each parent may affect the monthly child support amount. The child support guidelines assume that a kid will primarily reside with one parent and stay with the other parent about one-third of the time. But because there are situations in which this doesn’t happen (e.g. the parents spend equal amounts of time with the child), the court will consider how parenting time is actually shared.
Let your attorney know how much time your child actually spends with you during the year, even if it’s different from the terms of your custody order. This is especially important where, on paper, the other parent is allowed a certain amount of parenting time but doesn’t use it.
Is the Court Allowed to Deviate From the Guidelines?
In some cases, the judge is permitted to deviate from the amount of child support that would typically be required by the guidelines. This may result in a higher or lower monthly support payment. Common reasons to deviate from the guidelines include:
- Extraordinary medical expenses for the child or parent
- Extraordinary costs to transport the child to and from parenting time
- A child with special needs
- A significant disparity between the two parents’ standards of living
- The parent who would be required to pay is incarcerated
Parents may agree to deviate from the guidelines, but the judge has to approve it. A parent who asks for a deviation must demonstrate that it is in the best interests of the child.
When Can a Child Support Order Be Modified?
Life circumstances may arise that require one party to request a modification of a prior child support order. For example, the parent receiving support may suddenly be terminated from employment, become unable to work due to an injury, or have significant and unexpected costs to care for the child. These may justify a request to increase the amount.
On the other hand, the paying parent may be faced with a job loss or injury or could find out that the parent receiving support is earning more money or has lower personal expenses. In this scenario, the judge may decide to reduce the amount.
Regardless of the changes that a parent encounters, the prior order has to be followed unless and until a judge modifies it. A parent can ask the judge to do so if there has been a “significant change in the material circumstances” since the last order was entered. Always remember that the court has to decide that such circumstances have taken place and issue a new child support order. Parents are not allowed to privately renegotiate a new monthly payment.
What Happens if Child Support Payments Are Late or Missed?
If child support payments are late or missed, the court may garnish the paying parent’s wages. This will cause the employer to send the payment directly to the receiving parent. Past-due payments may result in higher amounts garnished until the balance is satisfied.
Courts may use other tools to force a parent to pay, including contempt proceedings and intercepting income tax refunds. If you are unable to pay child support or the paying parent is failing to make payments on time, talk to a lawyer right away.
Contact Our Westborough Child Support Attorney
Child support will impact your finances and your ability to care for your child. However, having trusted legal counsel by your side will help protect your rights and advocate for your best interests. If you’re ready to get started on your child support case, connect with SederLaw’s Family Law & Probate Team today.